– Contemporary styling
– Cabin space and features
– Great ride and handling
– Average fuel economy
– Limited offroad ability
– Some hard cabin plastics
The CX-9 is Mazda’s three-row midsize crossover that’s silently been on the market since 2007, gaining the occasional update over the years to keep it fresh. In fact, it’s just undergone its third facelift this year, although it certainly doesn’t feel ancient in any way compared to its rivals.
The 2013 redesign includes a new corporate front-end, redone tail lamp clusters, optional new 20-inch wheels and not much else. It’s a handsome design that somehow hides its size well with clever styling. At more than five metres in length, it’s longer than a Range Rover! However, most of that length seems to be wasted on the huge front overhang.
Stepping inside, the cabin design is very simple, just like in every other current Mazda. But all the textures look premium and the door-panel materials are truly upscale to the touch. However, the dashboard is entirely hard-plastic, negating any luxury vibe the rest of the interior built up.
Cabin space is very good, with moderately-bolstered front seats, and especially abundant in the 60:40-split second row, with its reclining backrest. Even the third row has just about enough headroom for average-sized adults, but legroom back there is way too tight to be comfortable. The second-row seat can be slid forward to improve third-row knee room, but not by a whole lot. Surprisingly, boot space is reasonable enough for groceries even with the two-piece third row in use, and positively huge with it folded down. There’s enough cubbies and pockets, as well as covered cup-holders.
Our top-spec version came loaded with good features, such as a decent CD/MP3 touchscreen stereo with USB/AUX ports, navigation, rear camera, blind-spot monitor, collision warning, cruise control, keyless entry and start, front-side airbags, HID headlights, power tailgate, sunroof and a tri-zone auto a/c with rear vents. However, the touchscreen is small and fidgety to use, while the a/c was barely average in the July heat, at least in our test car.
Powered by a Ford-sourced carryover 3.7-litre V6, the big motor makes 273 hp at 6250 rpm and 367 Nm of torque at 4250 rpm. Mated to a smooth 6-speed automatic with manual-shift capability, our all-wheel-drive tester did the 0-100 kph run in 8.9 seconds with the pedal to the metal. Otherwise, it feels sluggish on partial-throttle, especially when casually overtaking at highway speeds. Fuel economy isn’t particularly impressive either, with an as-indicated 16.4 litres/100 km of consumption.
The handling is great for a car of its size. There’s good grip from the 245/50 tyres. Body roll is limited and understeer can be kept at a minimum with the right braking inputs. Flick the steering left-right and the tail can be swung out slightly in a controlled manner, sort of like a hot hatch, but the overall weight is very obvious so there’s a limit to how much you can chuck about this big wagon. The steering is heavy and offers some feedback, but curiously, it lightens up at highway speeds, when it should be the other way round. And the ABS-assisted disc brakes are average at best.
Cruising on the highway, the ride is a wee bit on the firm side, but still pretty smooth on most surfaces. It’s also fairly silent so, aside from the somewhat-lazy overtaking juice, it’s a great long-distance runner.
The CX-9 is clearly not designed with offroading in mind, with its road-biased suspension, long overhangs and lack of low-range gearing. However, it’ll do fine on gravel tracks and flat soft-sand areas, if driven with a light right foot.
The CX-9 continues Mazda’s tradition of building generic family cars with class-leading handling. All in all, it does almost everything well enough to be among the top contenders in the midsize crossover segment. A few of its rivals offer a bit more space, a bit better fuel economy, and a bit more premium cabin materials, but if a bit of fun is on your agenda, the Mazda is clearly in a class above.
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